Germany, Belgium and the U.K. all have outposts of one sort or another on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront in Cape Town. The Paulaner Bräuhaus is a pillar of consistency and quality, and one of the most successful of several brewpubs Paulaner has opened around the world. Brewmaster Wolfgang Koedel has been there since its opening in 2001; he customizes recipes for its system based on Paulaner’s classic styles, but with some modifications, a few of which have made their way back to the recipe book in Bavaria. All demonstrate stereotypical German precision; the Dunklweiss, made with 80 percent dark malt and an extra hit of bittering hops, is a notable standout. The Bräuhaus is the local focal point for Oktoberfest celebrations, which push the 2,500-liter system to capacity; it typically sells 72,000 pints in four weeks.
While the Brauhaus is the only brewpub on the Waterfront, the Belgian restaurant Den Anker sells the expected mix of imported Belgian classics as well as an amber ale, made for it in Belgium, which re-ferments in barrel on its way to South Africa. Mitchell’s, on the other hand, is the eponymous outpost of a brewery in Knysna, six hours east, and focuses on classic British styles like stouts and bitters. Lex Mitchell, a former SAB employee, founded the brewery in 1983, making it the granddaddy of South African microbrewing. At the time the Eastern Cape had no other suppliers for draft beer, allowing Mitchell’s to corner the market, and while the company does sell bottles, the brand remains very much associated with draft beer. The company has changed hands a few times and been split up and reconstituted, but today Mitchell’s is South Africa’s second-largest brewery.
The cutting edge, in South African terms, may lie just outside Cape Town in the seaside community of Somerset West, where two breweries have set up shop, Triggerfish and Devil’s Peak. Triggerfish founder and owner Eric Van Heerden has been brewing for about five years. “After a year in the USA, continuing my homebrewing there, we returned to South Africa, and I started looking at stepping up and opening my own brewery. Triggerfish is the result. Right now we are focusing on American styles and are probably known for hoppy beers, even though we’re not nearly as hoppy as the same styles would be on the West Coast.”
Van Heerden’s description of his beers is spot on. American craft beer drinkers will readily recognize Triggerfish’s Pale Ale Ocean Potion, Sweet Lips Blonde Ale, Roman Red American Amber Ale, and Empowered Stout as falling well within their described styles, if without any of the more pungent bitterness, extravagant hoppy aromas or elevated alcohol that have become more common in the U.S. It’s rather like tasting well-made American craft beers from the early 1990s, and the beers are eminently sessionable.
In the Contract
Devil’s Peak is going whole hog with accurate, truly contemporary American “extreme” styles like IPAs and Imperial Coffee Stouts, marketing research (if it even did any) be damned. Brewer Greg Crum, a Californian and unrepentant Deadhead (albeit rather a clean-cut one) moved to South Africa six years ago. A homebrewer since 1993, he missed the sort of beers he grew up with and two years ago approached Chris Barnard about contract brewing there. Boston, however, was at capacity and couldn’t accommodate him, so he and his South African partners Dan Badenhorst and Russell Boltman built their own facilities at the foot of Devil’s Peak, right at the edge of Cape Town (in your typical postcard of Table Mountain, it’s the peak to the left).
They are starting off with small—500-liter—batches and distribute to a handful of restaurants and bars as well as sell bottled beer directly. They import American hops like Centennial and Cascade, and if those distinct hop aromas aren’t enough to raise eyebrows in South Africa, Crum’s already talking about sourcing used brandy barrels from their connections with the wine industry, which they intend to use both for aging and to cultivate Brettanomyces and other microbes. A pale lager is not in the cards; Crum saw the rise of craft beers in the U.S. and feels that blondee lagers, no matter how craft or micro-, are not going to make a deep impression on South Africans: “Sierra Nevada conquered the U.S. with pale ale, not lager.”